Tama lives with his wife and two daughters in a small home located in one of the poorest and most remote villages in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Several years ago, Tama’s family had only 25 livestock (measured in sheep units) per person, and they were known as the poorest family in the area. Although the government provided them with subsidies such as cash, grain, and sheep, Tama treated these as free gifts and consumed them within a short period of time. He believed that the government would continue to support poor families like his year after year. Eventually, however, the government subsidies began to decrease, and they were told that eliminating poverty was dependent on their own effort. But Tama had no idea of how to start improving his family’s living conditions.
In September 2002, The Bridge Fund worked with local people in Nagchu to develop and design a sheep micro loan project in the two poorest townships of Tsonyi Administrative Area, Nagchu Prefecture. 23 impoverished families, including Tama’s, were identified and selected as recipients of five year sheep loans. The Bridge Fund Tibetan staff and Heifer Project International made initial visits to the area in 2001 to learn more about needs in this nomadic community located at 15,000 feet and to work on designing a program to reduce poverty. The Bridge Fund was encouraged to work here since it is so remote and underserved. It is a four day drive north of Lhasa.
When the project was introduced, naturally Tama felt fortunate that his family was selected as one of the beneficiary households. At the same time, he felt hesitant, because this was not a ‘free gift’ like those he had received before, and he was unsure about his family’s ability to repay the loan in five years. His neighbors even suspected that support for the project would eventually be withdrawn due to poor repayment by Tama and the other 22 families.
In addition to his hesitation, however, Tama saw a chance to prove to himself and the other villagers that his family is capable of improving its living standards. He was told that the loan recipient households could keep not only dairy and animal products from the loaned sheep, but also any animals reproduced beyond the loaned amount. The basic condition would be to return the same number of animals in good condition to the township after five years, so that the loans could be passed on to other impoverished families. Thus, Tama’s family decided to accept the micro loan.